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Kenneth City mayor rejects council's good evaluation of police chief

The council gave police Chief Michael Rossi high marks.

The council gave police Chief Michael Rossi high marks.

KENNETH CITY — When it comes to evaluating the job performance of department heads in this town's government, the usual practice is for the council member in charge to rate the quality of work and have the mayor sign the document.

But the most recent job evaluation for Kenneth City police Chief Mike Rossi has been anything but usual.

The procedure began normally enough with council member Joanne DeSimone, who oversees the Police Department, writing an evaluation praising Rossi late last year. But, in an apparent first, Mayor Teresa Zemaitis refused to sign it and instead wrote her own evaluation criticizing the chief's performance.

Now, the remaining three council members have weighed in with their own job evaluations — at Rossi's request.

Rossi said he asked the three for their comments after Zemaitis refused to sign off on DeSimone's evaluation. Zemaitis recommended that he be put on probation for six months for doing such a poor job. DeSimone, on the other hand, had given Rossi a glowing report, rating him with an average 4.8 out of 5 possible points.

"It's unprecedented," Rossi said of Zemaitis' action. Had Zemaitis not written her own evaluation, Rossi said it's unlikely he would have gone to the other council members. But the mayor's criticism "concerned me so I wanted to know what everybody thinks." If he had a problem, Rossi said, he wanted to know about it.

The others vindicated him and his performance, he said. All three ranked him almost as high as DeSimone. Adam Mayefsky, who is not running for re-election, gave him an overall average of 4.37 points. Wanda Dudley, an average of 4.61 points. And Phil Redisch, who is running for re-election, gave the chief an overall performance average of 4.73 points.

"It reassured me that I'm doing my job and doing it correctly," Rossi said. "I'm proud of the direction I've taken the Kenneth City Police Department in the 15 months I've been the chief."

Zemaitis disagreed with the chief's tactics. She is required by town rules to sign off on job evaluations of all employees but said she has never regarded the duty as a kind of rubber stamp. Zemaitis said she has often written comments on evaluations when she saw something she disagreed with. But when it came time for Rossi's evaluation, she believed there was so much missing that comments written in the margin would not suffice. So she filled out her own evaluation.

Rossi, she said, had a right to go to other council members for comment but the appropriate request would have been for them to write letters to put in his file, not job evaluations when they do not oversee him or know his daily activities. And that, she said, resulted in some errors in the evaluations. One such example concerned Rossi's coming in to work early and leaving late. Not only does a council member who oversees another department not know if he's doing that, Zemaitis said she has received complaints that he does not regularly come in early and leave late.

Rossi has said before that he works 24/7 and keeps in touch through email and by phone when he's at home in Pasco County.

It's unlikely that a dispute over a job evaluation will come up again. Kenneth City voters last year approved a shift to a council-manager form of government under which the manager will be responsible for evaluating the performances of department heads.

Interviews with six finalists for the city manager job are complete and the job has been offered to Matthew Campbell of Crystal Beach, former assistant to the city manager of Dunedin. Campbell and the town are negotiating details of his employment.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes on Twitter.

Kenneth City mayor rejects council's good evaluation of police chief 02/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 2:39pm]
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